Project to transform understanding of effects of climate change on mental health

A multidisciplinary team is examining the direct and indirect effects of climate change on mental health.

To determine the most appropriate responses to these challenges, we are building a vital evidence base to understand how young peoples’ worries about the world they will grow up in affects their mental health, and how we can best support them. Dr Emma Lawrance Mental Health Innovations Fellow

A team of researchers, designers, policy experts and educators at two of Imperial’s Global Institutes are transforming our understanding of how the challenges affecting our planet also affect our minds, communities and healthcare systems.

Bringing together expertise from across Imperial, Climate Cares is a collaboration between the Institute of Global Health Innovation and the Grantham Institute with the purpose of examining the direct and indirect effects of climate change on mental health.

Led by Dr Emma Lawrance, Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, the project’s vision is for individuals, communities and healthcare systems to have the knowledge, tools, and resources to become resilient to the mental health impacts of climate change.

“As global temperatures rise, so do the mental health implications, and there is growing evidence for how increased temperatures and more severe natural disasters (e.g. the Australian bushfires) leads to a range of worsened mental health outcomes. While anecdotally people also report distress due to awareness of our changing climate and its impacts, there is a lack of robust research into these effects” said Dr Lawrance.

“To determine the most appropriate responses to these challenges, we are building a vital evidence base to understand how young peoples’ worries about the world they will grow up in affects their mental health, and how we can best support them.”

In particular, the project aims to examine the impact of a range of psychological responses to witnessing or being aware of the impacts of climate change, including what is increasingly termed ‘solastalgia’, the feeling of loss and distress about the transformation of homelands, and ‘eco-anxiety’, the chronic and overwhelming fear of environmental disaster.

The Climate Cares team will work closely with a Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG) from diverse backgrounds across the UK to help shape research and develop their understanding of psychological responses to climate change.

Together with affected individuals, and with the support of the School of Public Health, Centre for Environmental Policy and Societal Engagement, they plan to design, evaluate and scale interventions that support the mental health of vulnerable people and communities so they can become resilient in times of crisis and are equipped to take action.

Changing Worlds

The Climate Cares team have recently launched a UK-wide “Changing Worlds” survey (closes 8pm, Wednesday 26 August 2020) to explore how young people feel about environmental problems and COVID-19. The team aim to understand how these events are impacting the mental health of young people, and what power they may feel to contribute to any changes they want to see in the world.

Individual and governmental action on climate change is thought to help combat eco-anxiety. Raising awareness of the evidence for the win-wins of policies that can support a healthy planet and healthy minds will be addressed in a third project stream, which will involve developing and disseminating policy guidelines and best practice principles to educate health care leaders and trigger health systems change across the globe.

Strategic Priorities Fund

The Grantham Institute is one of a number of Imperial’s Centres, Institutes and Departments to be awarded funding by UK Research and Innovation through the prestigious Strategic Priorities Fund. Launched in 2018, the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) is one of the UK’s largest, publicly funded programmes of work, supporting high quality multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research programmes which address government priorities.

The funding has enabled the Climate Cares team to develop an educational video to raise awareness of the mental health impacts of climate change and invite the public to share their thoughts and feelings about climate change and what it means to them.

The Climate Cares team hope to secure further funding in the future to expand their understanding of emerging mental health needs and determine how mental health systems can best adapt and adjust in a changing world.

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